As Many as Half?
Oklahoma Watch published an article Friday titled, As Many as Half of Third Graders Who Fail Reading Test Could Win Exemptions. When I read it this afternoon (the Internet has been slow lately), I immediately noted two things I didn’t much care for: the prediction and the title. We’re a little early into this process to start making guesses – educated or otherwise – about how many students will be retained. Second, I find the word Win objectionable. To accept its use imposes the word lose on students not earning an exemption. Since literacy is a gift, let’s not set up the picture to have winners and losers. Here’s the key piece of the article:
“We believe a good number – maybe up to 50 percent – will get a good-cause exemption,” said Tricia Pemberton, spokeswoman for the state education department.
Pemberton said the agency expects to see similar growth in reading proficiency that Florida saw, as measured on the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Some experts have attributed that improvement more to reading intervention provided by Florida than to the retention mandate.
The article also cites data from Florida showing the percentage of students failing the test and the percentage retained in the first ten years since their retention law passed.
% Failing the Test
*Florida implemented a more rigorous test.
After reading this article, I tweeted the following:
I quickly received the following response:
And these from Facebook:
The people actually working with our students (and who don’t have their own spokesperson) believe the exemptions will have much less coverage. In particular, the impact on English language learners and special education students will be devastating. Even the Oklahoma Watch article oversimplifies the extent to which these populations are protected.
Some students, such as English language learners or those in special education, may automatically qualify for an exemption. In other cases, teachers, principals and superintendents will review a student’s portfolio and make a judgment call on whether a student’s coursework shows they’re proficient enough at reading to enter fourth grade. Many teachers are drawing up portfolios for students in case they do poorly on the reading test.
This is one of the problems school districts experience trying to communicate the RSA rules to parents. Being an ELL or IEP kid does not automatically qualify you for an exemption. Nor does evaluation of the student portfolios amount to a judgment call. Here’s the actual language:
English Language Learners who have had less than two years of instruction in English and are identified as Limited-English Proficient (LEP)/ English Language Learner (ELL) on a screening tool approved by the Oklahoma State Department of Education Office of Bilingual/Migrant Education and have a Language Instruction Educational Plan (LIEP) in place prior to the administration of the third-grade criterion referenced test; and the student must have had less than two years of instruction in an English Language Learner (ELL) program.
Students with disabilities whose Individualized Education Program (IEP) indicates they are to be assessed with the Oklahoma Alternate Assessment Program (OAAP).
Students who demonstrate an acceptable level of performance (minimum of 45th percentile) on an alternative standardized reading test approved by the State Board of Education (SAT 10, Iowa Test of Basic Skills, Terranova).
Students who demonstrate through a teacher- developed portfolio that they can read on grade level. The student portfolio shall include evidence demonstrating the student’s mastery of the Oklahoma state standards in reading equal to grade-level performance on the reading portion of the Oklahoma Core Curriculum Test (OCCT).
Students with disabilities who take the OCCT and have an IEP that states they have received intense remediation in reading for more than two years but still demonstrate a deficiency in reading and were previously retained one year or were in a transitional grade during kindergarten, first-, second- or third-grade.
Students who have received intensive remediation in reading for two or more years but still demonstrate a deficiency in reading and who already have been retained in kindergarten, first-grade, second-grade or third-grade for a total of two years. Transitional grades count.
Getting parents (and even non-third grade teaching educators) to understand that the law does not automatically give exceptions for ELL, IEP, or portfolios of student work is no small challenge.
We should also look at Florida’s numbers. In 10 years, the failing rate has dropped from 23% to 18%. The retention rate has dropped from 13% to 7%. Most of those improvements came in the first two years, however. That’s what Oklahoma would be likely to see as well, if we had done the other thing Florida paired with their law…
That’s right – money matters. Without funding interventions, this is a purely punitive law. Florida has pushed $130 million ANNUALLY into intervention programs since passing their retention law. Yes, they’re a bigger state than Oklahoma, but we pumped a paltry $6.5 million into RSA last year. Even Barresi’s request to increase that to $16 million doesn’t take us where we need to be. How much is enough? I’m not sure. The legislature should probably start with a generous amount and keep going. We’re not even close. It’s going to take a while to fill the silo at this rate.
Meanwhile, teachers and parents scramble, hoping we can get half of the students projected to score unsatisfactory on the test out of harm’s way. The law as written lacks common sense and financial support. Without those, nobody wins.
This is also why it is important we support HB 2625, which would restore the retention decision to schools and parents. Watch for it in a legislative body near you!